March 06, 2011

Dear Catalog CEOs: The Demographic Shift

Dear Catalog CEOs:

I'll be you have already reviewed this chart from ATG, published on the Greenlane SEO blog.

Look at the "catalog" set of bars.

Now, normally, I'm not a big fan of this type of research.  I prefer actual customer purchase transactions over survey data.  But when survey/research data aligns with the purchase data I typically analyze, well, then I feel the need to share it.

So, again, look at the "catalog" set of bars.

Catalogs are an important way that the 55+ crowd learns about new products.

In my projects, the customers most likely to respond to catalogs are 55+ customers.

The average age of the baby boomer generation is 55 years old.

Specialty catalogs exploded in the 1980s, when the baby boomer generation entered a prime consumption demographic.  This generation rode the catalog wave, all the way to 2011.

I keep hearing from folks that "social media doesn't work".  Well, look at the graph.  Should social media work if your customer is 55+?

Recently, I followed two conference hashtags ... both conferences were being held at the same time.  One conference was a Web Analytics conference, hosted by Webtrends.  The other conference was the NEMOA conference, the signature conference for the catalog industry.  Each conference has roughly the same number of attendees.  You wouldn't know this from following each conference on Twitter.
  • #wtengage = 2,000+ tweets.
  • #nemoa = 50+ tweets.
One audience embraces social media, the other does not --- not because of a social media failure, but because of a demographic/lifestyle preference.

The multichannel experts were, unintentionally, wrong.  Really, really wrong.  There are significant generational differences in customer behavior.  Generational differences drive channel usage.  A 26 year old thinks you are destroying the planet with catalogs.  A 62 year old thinks you are destroying the planet with plastic computers and plastic cell phones that consume coal-based electricity.  The average customer doesn't use all channels ... in fact, my studies show that, outside of the top 20% of the customer file, customers readily sort themselves into the channels that fit their lifestyle.

Use the channels that are appropriate for your customer.  Be aware, however, that you cannot ride the wave of a generation forever ... every generation enters a post-spending lifestage, one that is devastating to a brand (i.e. Montgomery Wards).

Purchase the book at (print or Kindle), or contact me now for your own customized project (these are the most popular projects I work on).